Tag Archives: retellings

The Changeling by Victor LaValle ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  448

Publication Date:  June 13, 2017

Format:  E-book from Netgalley

 

 

 

 

This intelligent, intriguing modern day fairy tale starts out in what seems to be a normal world.   It begins with the birth of the protagonist, Apollo, a child of mixed race to Lillian Kagwa (a Ugandan immigrant) and Brian West (a white parole officer.)  His father had held him as a baby telling him he was Apollo, the God.  This becomes a mantra for Apollo later in life.  Brian West disappears by the time Apollo is four years old, but Apollo continues to have dreams, or maybe nightmares, about his father returning.  In a box of items left behind by Brian is a well-read copy of Maurice Sendak’s Outside Over There.  The Changeling becomes a retelling of this award winning children’s book.  Apollo is an avid reader and at a young age becomes a buyer and seller of used books.

Even before the witches and trolls appear in this novel, there are hints of the monsters in the ordinary.   In childhood, “Apollo would find himself wondering if he actually was frightening, a monster, the kind that would drive his own father away.”  Then later, Emma’s friend, Nichelle, explains to Apollo, about the nude photo of Emma hanging in Amsterdam.  Nichelle says of Emma, “She looks like a fucking sorceress, Apollo.  It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”

Race and casual racism is discussed throughout this book.  When Apollo is young and trying to sell his books in the higher end spots in Manhattan, the author writes “Every kid with excess melanin becomes a super predator, even a black boy with glasses and a backpack full of books.  He might be standing at the entrance for fifteen minutes while the clerks pretended not to notice him.”  Later in the novel, Apollo is stopped by a cop in a white section in Queens and says, “that was fast.”

This book also speaks to the new age of parenthood, of more involved dads, and of social media.  Apollo Kagwa is one of these new age dads who is very much involved in the parenting of his child.  He enjoys taking him to the playground and bragging with the other dads about new milestones.  He posts countless photographs of his son, Brian, on Facebook.  Apollo’s wife, Emma, meanwhile, begins showing signs of postpartum depression.   She tells Apollo that she has received strange texts of pictures of the baby that have disappeared shortly after receiving them, which Apollo dismisses.  “You’re what’s wrong with our family, Emma. You. Are. The. Problem. Go take another pill.”   The horror in this novel is the experience of parenthood itself, the no-win situation regarding the expectations facing parents, the feeling of needing to protect your child, and ultimately the loss of a child.

Apollo finds a signed first edition of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird with the inscription to Truman Capote, “Here’s to the Daddy of our dreams.”  He knows that this book could have a great payday, however, it does not pay in the way he expects.  After barely surviving the wrath and rage of his wife, he realizes that perhaps his wife was right.  He ends up on a journey with many twists and turns through mystical realms of witches, trolls and even some human monsters.

This novel warns of the dangers of social media and putting your life out there for all to see, judge, and possibly take advantage of.  William tells Apollo, “Vampires can’t come into your house unless you invite them.  Posting online is like leaving your front door open and telling any creature of the night it can come right in.”  It seems that Emma Valentine and Brian Kagwa were the perfect target for trolls with the publicized birth of their son, followed by continuous Facebook posts by Brian.

This book speaks to deeper truths about the monsters within each of us.  The glamer we are able to superimpose over our own misbehaviors to make us feel better about ourselves.  It warns of trolls lurking in everyday places and people.  This book is not simply a retelling or a fairy tale, there are many layers and depths to it.  The social commentary is sharp, but easily consumed within the context of this fantastical setting.  It is about the stories we tell ourselves as well as our children and the effect these stories have on us.  There is some pretty graphic violence though, so consider yourself forewarned.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  In the words of Cal, one of the witches, “A bad fairy tale has some simple goddamn moral.  A great fairy tale tells the truth.”  According to Cal’s guidelines, is this a bad or great fairy tale, or somewhere in between?  Explain.
  2. Why did Brian Kagwa become a changeling.  Who was responsible?  Why was he chosen?
  3. How is Scottish glamer or “glamour” used in this fairy tale?
  4. Why do you think Apollo’s father read Outside Over There to Apollo when he was little?  Discuss the similarities and differences between these two books.
  5. What is the meaning of the inscription in Harper Lee’s book in the context of this book?
  6. What is this book’s message about social media?
  7. What is a changeling?  Where else in literature and film do we see changelings?
  8. Discuss the social commentary of this novel on parenthood and expectations of mothers and fathers from this novel.
  9. What genre do you think best characterizes this novel?

 

Utube reading of Maurice Sendak’s Outside Over There

New York Times Review by Jennifer Senior

New York Times Review by Terrence Rafferty

Interview with Victor LaValle published in the Los Angeles Times

Victor LaValle’s website

 

 

Tales of a Severed Head by Rachida Madani ~ Book Review

Pages:  176

American Publication:  October 9, 2012

Original Publication:  2005 in French

Format:  Paperback book

 

 

 

 

“She speaks of all nights
and all women
she speaks of the sea
of waves which carry everything away
as if everything could be carried away
of waves which begin the sea again
there where the sea stopped.
She goes through the city
she walks with death
hand in hand
and her hand does not tremble…”

This slim volume of poetry is a modern-day One Thousand and One Nights set in Morocco describing the position of women within that country.  It tells of the repression of people, not just women, who are poor, hungry, have little recourse as freedom of expression has been taken from them.  It is about history repeating itself time and time again.  Madani argues that not much has changed since the days when One Thousand and One Nights was written.  In One Thousand and One Nights, the profoundly distrustful King Shehriyar vows to marry a new virginal bride each day only to behead her come morning.  This continues until Scheherazade volunteers to be a bride.  Her trick, however, is to start to tell the King a story and not finish.  He wants to know the ending so does not behead her in the morning.  The next night she finishes the story, but begins another… so this continues saving many maidens in the process.

The author, Rachida Madani, wrote this in French and it was translated to English by Marilyn Hacker.   Hacker’s introduction to the poem is incredibly helpful in framing a reference for it.  Rachida Madani, an activist, began writing poetry during Morocco’s leaden years.  During this time, under King Hassan II’s rule, there was much political unrest and the government was brutal in it’s response to criticism and opposition.   Madani’s writing, though strongly feminist evaluating the role of women in the hierarchy, is more powerfully about the corruption in the society as a whole and the repression and abuses of the government towards it’s people.  Within this poem of three parts, Madani encourages a palace rebellion.  She is encouraging people to protest, speak out, share their voices.

I read this as part of Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge and am happy I did.  It satisfied the following requirement:  read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love.  I’m glad I read it and feel that I learned more about Morocco and this time period as a result.

 

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

 

28588073

 

Pages:  256

 

Expected Publication Date:  October 11, 2016

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

“the island is a theatre.  Prospero is a director.  He’s putting on a play, within which there’s another play.  If his magic holds and his play is successful, he’ll get his heart’s desire.  But if he fails…”

This is a marvelous re-telling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  It is a tale of prisons within prisons, of prisoners who do not realize they’re imprisoned, of vengeance and revenge.  The most beautiful part of this book is that it is prisoners who are putting on the play and their thoughts on the characters, plot and imagined future outcomes are all explored.  Margaret Atwood’s retelling, in effect, goes deeper than the original.  I, as the reader, was left amazed at how well all the intricacies of plot worked out to mirror the original work in such a way that it actually took the plot further, creating a doubling effect:  a play within a play (maybe within another play).  It feels genius as you read it, and further intensifies the prisons within prisons theme.

This is fourth installment of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, in which excellent writers are tackling retellings of Shakespeare’s literature.  “The Tempest” is the last written work of William Shakespeare, written in 1610-1611.  I plan to re-read The Tempest and rewrite this review (or at least rethink it).  I am that inspired by this novel.

There were a couple fairly major departures from the novel.  The largest being that, Miranda, Felix’s daughter in Atwood’s version has died at the age of 3, however Felix imagines he still sees her and she is there with him until the end of the novel when he is able to release her.  I actually think this brings an additional element of fantasy to the novel, a hint of madness to the sorcerer.  She actually becomes entwined into the role of the fairy as enacted in the prison.  It also allows for another level of imprisonment.

This version does not take place on an island, but Felix (Prospero) banishes himself to a remote area living in a shack with landlords that maybe never were.  It is all very mysterious.  He lives in seclusion for twelve years prior to taking the job at the prison where through a literacy program he and the inmates re-enact Shakespeare plays.  It is here at the correctional facility that “The Tempest” is re-enacted in more ways than one with the outcome that Felix desires, the overthrowing of Antonio who had taken away his theater directorship.

The work that Felix does at the correctional facility feels magical.  The relationship he develops with the inmates and the enthusiasm and interest they show for working on the plays seems incredible.  As quoted from Felix within the novel, “Maybe the island really is magic.  Maybe it’s a kind of mirror:  each one sees in it a reflection of his inner self.  Maybe it brings out who you really are.   Maybe it’s a place where you’re supposed to learn something.  But what is each one of these people supposed to learn?  And do they learn it?”  This seems to be exactly what is happening within Felix’s theater in the prison.

This is a novel full of modern day wit, whimsy, vigor.  Margaret Atwood infuses rap, dance, old world swearing, and much self discovery into the prisoner’s re-enactment.  It is super fun to read, yet has its dark melancholic side in true Atwood form, and can be dissected in so many ways.  The prisoners each have their own interpretations of the characters and their expected outcomes, which is true of all great literature.    I highly recommend this to Shakespeare fans or just fans of great literature!  This is Atwood at her best!  images

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Discuss the theme of prisons and how it relates to the theme of the play/novel.
  2. How do you feel about the doubling effect this retelling has on the original?
  3. Discuss the modernization of the play within the prison setting with rewriting and song/rap and dance.  How is this true to the original and how does it differ?
  4. Discuss the role of magic and fantasy in the original “The Tempest” and in Atwood’s retelling.  How do drugs help in the retelling?
  5. Why do you think she titled the novel “Hag-Seed?”
  6. Discuss the role of Caliban?  In what way is Caliban, “this thing of darkness” in some sense Prospero’s?
  7. Felix tells his class that there were 9 prisons within Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”  How many prisons can you count within this novel?  Can you make a list of prisoner/prison/jailer?
  8. What is music used for within this novel?
  9. What is magic used for?
  10. Who are the monsters?
  11. Who wants revenge and why?

 

Review of Hag-Seed from “The Scotsman”

Margaret Atwood’s website

The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis ~ Book Review

 

65605

 

Pages: 221

Published:  1955

Format:  Soft covered book

 

 

 

I loved the Chronicles of Narnia as a child and was excited to read this with my 8 year old son.   As a child, I loved the magic and beauty contained in these other worlds.  As an adult, I now see the parallels to the bible, and the messages it is intending to teach.   The ending of the book is actually a retelling of sorts of the story of creation from the bible.    I must say my remembrance of the book was that of a 5 star read, but in re-reading it, I can only give images-2.  My son, although very interested and attuned to the storyline throughout, I think would agree.

I will keep this review short as there is so much already written about this novel and instead of providing discussion questions, I will simply provide links.

Discussion Questions from Charlevoix Library

Study Questions from Oxford Tutorials

Official website of C. S. Lewis

Eligible (The Austen Project #4) by Curtis Sittenfeld ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

 

25852870

 

Published: April 15, 2016

Pages: 513

Format:  E-book

 

 

 

At first I was a little leery, thinking this was over the top, not very deep.. However, I found myself laughing out loud over and over again and reading late into the night, never wanting to put this book down.  I would literally be aching to read it while at work or with the kids during the day. It is highly addictive, highly inventive and utterly hilarious!!  I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed so much while reading a book.

So, the plot:  five sisters who grew up together in Cincinnati are reunited there again to support their parents when their father is recovering from heart surgery.  They are in their 20s and 30s, with the eldest two being 37 and 39.  Their mom,  the social climber, feels the need to try to marry them off well.  The social dynamics within the household and with various suitors is hilarious.  The sexual tension that develops between Liz (the 37-year old sister) and Fitzwilliam Darcy becomes a thread winding it’s way through the book to it’s conclusion.

It is a hugely fun read that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys romantic comedy!  It’s been forever since I’ve read “Pride and Prejudice,”  but this story evokes similar tensions, comedy, and excitement about the outcome.images-2

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Would this book be as good on it’s own without the comparison to “Pride and Prejudice?”
  2. Compare this novel to “Pride and Prejudice.”  Discuss relationships, setting, plot, comedic value.
  3. The book read mostly through the voice of Liz.  Did you find yourself identifying with her to any extent?
  4. Why do you think there have been so many adaptations to Jane Austen’s books?  What is it about them that lend them to retellings?

A Negative New York Times Review

A Positive New York Times Review

Curtis Sittenfeld’s website